DOHA: The United Arab Emirates' president on Monday began his first visit to Qatar since the end of a nearly four-year regional blockade that put ties in the deep freeze. Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan was greeted by Qatar's Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani at the airport, officials said, in a trip that coincides with the ongoing football World Cup in Qatar.

It is the first state visit since January 2021, when a Saudi-led boycott of the gas-rich peninsula that started in June 2017 finally came to an end. The visit, on the invitation of Qatar's Amir Sheikh Tamim, "builds on the existing brotherly relations between the two nations and their people", the UAE's official WAM news agency said.

Photos showed Sheikh Mohamed smiling with Sheikh Tamim and even riding in a white Bentley Bentayga SUV with Qatar's Amir driving. "I congratulate my brother Tamim bin Hamad and the people of Qatar on hosting the FIFA World Cup and wish them continued success," Sheikh Mohamed said in an online statement.

Sheikh Tamim similarly referred to Sheikh Mohamed as "my brother". His "visit allowed us to discuss ways to strengthen brotherly relations between our two countries, and to exchange views on regional and international issues of common concern, foremost of which are ways to support security and stability in the region," he said in an online statement, also congratulating the UAE on the occasion of its 51st National Day.

The first World Cup on Arab soil is taking place less than two years after Saudi Arabia and its allies the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties, claiming Qatar supported extremists and was too close to Iran - allegations that Doha denied. Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has already met the Amir during the World Cup, where he was pictured wearing a Qatar football scarf.

Although this is the UAE president's first visit since the blockade, ties have been gradually warming. In May, the Amir flew to Abu Dhabi for the funeral of Sheikh Khalifa, Sheikh Mohamed's half-brother and predecessor as president.  - Agencies